Thursday, January 24, 2008

The debate over privacy

The IT Skeptic
People demand online privacy as if it were some god-given right.

Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Ninth Amendment
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

I suppose it depends upon whether or not you believe in God, but certainly the protection of privacy has a long tradition among English speaking people.


The IT Skeptic said...

I'm no constitutional expert but I don't see that the Fourth Amendment guarantees privacy as a right. All it says is that the government may not search or invade unreasonably. It does not actually say that your private information must remain secret. Nor does it provide any constraint on what private enterprise may do with your private data, only government.

And, although frequently forgotten in its homeland, the US Constitution does only apply to abou 5% of the world's population.

There is a tradition of privacy in English speaking countries but only for the past few hundred years. So a minority of the human race has a tradition of privacy for the most recent tiny fraction of human history: this is interesting but does not establish it as a fundamental.

Anonymous said...

You are correct. The Constitution does not mention a right to privacy any more than it mentions a "separation of church and state", or many other misconceptions.

Both are supreme court interpretations that did not arrive until the mid-20th century.

Alice said...

Article VI
no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Anonymous said...

This is not the same thing. In fact, for the country's first 150 years, this Article was interpreted to mean: *all* religions were free to pray at the public square...

...not (as in the modern interpretation) that the public square was free from religion.

The same inversion of meanings occurred with privacy. The framers intended to establish certain rights as "first principles." These did not include privacy. They also left out the right to bear children, the right to marriage, the right to eat food, the right to not pay taxes without representation, or the right to read a book.

The Constitution isn't about what people can or can't do. It is about what the government can or can't do.

The IT Skeptic said...

I've expanded on the original discussion of privacy with a series of posts on Big Uncle, the concept of benevolent security at, which might be of interest to this discussion